Who should Christians revile?
No one—no one at all, according to Saint Paul, who wrote:
That implies all reviling is wrong (as wrong as all the sins that precede it in his list).
To whom should Christians show perfect courtesy?
Everyone—absolutely everyone. Again, the apostle writes:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Christians are to avoid quarreling, and to be gentle and show perfect courtesy toward all people. They are to speak evil of no one—not Donald Trump, not Marxists, not protestors in Portland.
So, how should we understand Christian inconsistency?
What should we conclude when a Christian calls us to honor Donald Trump, but then proceed to speak disrespectfully about protestors, liberals, homosexuals, socialists, abortionists, Marxists, and Democrats in private conversations or social media posts?
What should we conclude when a Christian rebukes a slight joke about a spelling mistake in a Trump tweet but then joins in insulting Christian publishing houses, Joel Osteen, Steven Furtick, contemporary worship songs, or seeker-sensitive churches?
Perhaps it is a mere oversight.
Perhaps such behavior indicates that we don’t really care so much about God’s commands as we do our own politics. (After all, it’s quite difficult to rebuke reviling while stumping for the Reviler-in-Chief!)
Or perhaps it is a Christian sloth—a lazy way of keeping other Christians from reviling our cause while allowing us to revile others.
How should we think about “reviling” and “honor?”
I do think there’s plenty of partisanship that goes into Christians calling Christians to honor our leaders (during some administrations, anyways) while they blatantly dishonor others. But, I also think we need to think more carefully about what constitutes “reviling,” “honor,” and “courtesy.”
Peter reminds us: “When Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return.” And yet, Jesus had no qualms about speaking in harsh ways — “hypocrites… children of hell…. blind guides… whitewashed tombs… brood of vipers…” — of rulers of the people. When told that Herod wanted to kill him, Jesus called the governor a “fox” (i.e., a cunning liar).
Before he wrote that “Jesus did not revile in return,” Peter instructed us: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” I take it to mean that we can speak of our leaders in the same ways that Jesus spoke of those in his day. That is to say, avoiding language such as “hypocrites… children of hell…. blind guides… whitewashed tombs… brood of vipers… fox…” wasn’t what Paul and Peter had in mind when they commanded us to “speak evil of no one” or to “not repay reviling for reviling.” If it were, then Jesus did not inherit the kingdom of God.
So, what did they mean?
You do the work. Go look up all these passages. Interpret them in context. Compare apostolic instruction with the life of the Messiah. Work on it until you have a consistent, Christ-informed ethic.